My eyes slowly close, easing the burn inflicted by the relentless Mojave Desert.
Intense darkness engulfs me as I drift over the highway tarmac; It still exudes the heat that has burrowed into its core.
My body is numb, yet movement fills my soul. Sounds of the desert guide my stride, providing a rhythmic north star through the night. The beautifully dangerous percussion of a snake’s tail, the haunting cry of a distant coyote, the light pounding of my feet, graciously moving me from Los Angeles to Las Vegas. Overwhelming peace and gratitude blanket me, amplified by the arresting darkness of night. I am exactly where I am supposed to be at the moment. Surrounded by a newfound family, encouraged by love and grit, speed and intent.
It’s four o’clock the previous morning, and a small family of six runners begin their dance inland from the Santa Monica Pier. We stand present and unified with a specific goal - run as fast as our bodies will allow us to through the city and desert to Las Vegas. A band of avant-garde misfits, intent on grooving to a different beat. Steeped in a culture that preaches the pursuit of the comfortable, our sextet intentionally chooses the antipodal. Pain is inevitable and invited. Desert temperatures are projected to vault into the triple digits, and yet the stark landscape offers no oasis from the elements. High mileage will inevitably take a toll, and forty hours without sleep will pay no favors to tempers and relationships. But to this crew, like pressure creates diamonds, friction creates progress and therefore, success. So onward we move into the fog-blanketed morning, faces painted with cheshire grins.
Adrenaline pumps through my body as I slap the hand of Rio Lakeshore, my newfound brother in run, and launch into the night. The lights of Los Angeles guide my feet; Neon signs of Sunset Boulevard morph into spectators, invested in celebration. I buzz along, moving much too fast for the meat remaining on the bone. The city is a blur. The race overtakes my being, taking a commanding grasp of my spirit. I focus on micro-terrain management and look only at my next foot placement. Glancing at my watch, I notice the miles tick by. Streaking through the early morning traffic, wearing nothing but split shorts and a small beanie, I tag Leah, and watch as she breaks free into the chaos. We’re fucking on.
We dance through Los Angeles, breaking free into the Mojave Desert.
Rio to Nash. Nash to Leah. Leah to Luke. Luke to Sam. Sam to BJ. Again. Again. Again.
The heat of the day infuses itself into the faded tarmac. Waves float above the road, projecting an obvious warning to the team. Electrolytes, food, singing, running. A routine reveals itself, allowing the team to settle down and focus on what we do best - suffer. Our shadows bounce through the desert landscape, eventually growing as long as the day.
The sun eventually relieves herself, ducking behind the distant snow-capped peaks, allowing us a momentary reprieve from her intensity. We welcome the night. Luke fends off a stray dog, intent on taking out his ankles. BJ inhales a Jack in the Box taco and tightens his shoes. Those who can, rest their weary eyes for a few precious moments. And we continue on, inching our way closer and closer to the sparkling Nevada desert mirage.
The night is quick to greet us with its own set of challenges as it reaches its long fingers around our vans, obscuring our vision. Creatures of the night emerge from the shadows as I click through downtown Barstow. My exhausted brain pulls me down psychedelic, abstract rabbit holes of nightmarish possibilities . My pace quickens as I begin to run from something, rather than towards. Heckles pitch out from alleyways and I tunnel my thoughts, focusing on getting out of town. Luke takes over and disappears into the desert; his headlamp quickly fading into the night. Rio gets lost, but the stars guide him home. Miles continue to stack up and we dance onward, increasingly delusional.
I travel intently, alone with my thoughts and a handheld through the desert. My quads are wood, and my head hasn’t stopped pounding since the beginning of time. I dive into the ground a few times on the uneven, scree-filled road, dragging me deeper into my own mind. Vegas doesn’t feel even remotely close, and I am uncertain. Uncertain of finishing. Uncertain of my own physical ability. The pace is fast as shit, and the miles are long. This valley of the mind feels unescapable, but I must continue on. Just as sudden as she disappeared, the sun is back, peeking her head up from her slumber. I am instantly filled with gratitude and tears stream down my face. An overwhelming flood of emotion kickstarts my soul and revives my stride, allowing me to continue on through the desert. What a wonderful, beautiful, crazy blessing running is. It is the ability to move on my own accord through barren landscapes, designed to keep man out. Relationships are built and maintained through movement. I am filled with complete and utter peace. To run is to live. To run is to breathe. To run is to grow.
Movement gives us clarity and the light of the fresh day provides a rhythmic shot of dopamine.
Death Valley beckons. Its barren landscape, straight roads, and inhospitable temps offer the perfect testing ground for training of both the body and mind. Onward we travel. Keeping the pace and not missing a beat. Rio to Nash. Nash to Leah. Leah to Luke. Luke to Sam. Sam to BJ. Again. Again. Again. The heat is overwhelming, and the hills are long. Our family is working now. Sweat drips into our eyes and our bodies vocally protest the continuous wear. Onward we travel, ever closer to our goal and the ice cold beers that act as a tangible finish line and end to the suffering. The road is long, yet our spirits soar.
Like horses returning to the stable, we collectively begin to taste our arrival in Vegas. We flip to the last page of our epic, still unwritten by our eclectic collective authorship. Free to compose the conclusion in any manner we deem fit, we choose speed. Dropping the pace consistently into the fives, and BJ hectically into the fours. We dance through our second night as conquistadors of the paved, flowing with the contours of the hills. The glow of Vegas is ever present in the distance, as our energy crescendos and passion for the race sparks. Faster and faster we move and the tempo of our soundtrack rapidly increases. Time flies by; Milestones of the Blue night; Green in essence.
And just like that, one of the most emotional, awe-inspiring events of my life is over. I find myself standing in front of the Welcome to Las Vegas sign, drinking Modelo out of my dirty running shoe, and embracing my new family in run. I am overcome with unidentifiable emotion, unable to do anything other than smile and hug my friends. Our renegade mission was a success. Shuffling away, I was ready to sleep.
Running is a gift. An allowance and avenue to express myself and dig deep inside. I move with the rhythm of the stride, and I feel. Clarity is inevitable, and I consistently walk away filled to the brim both spiritually and physically. The pain and success wraps me in a blanket, providing comfort. The experience is undeniably personal, but runners are all unified by a singular defining gift: peace.
Two weeks have passed and I am sitting in the back of my van, staring out over my local trails. This is where I fell in love with running for the first time. The brown rolling hills persuaded me, without much of a struggle, to pursue freedom through the movement of my body. I am still affected by our run through the desert. Waves of melancholy pass over me on occasion, confusing me and causing me to stop and think. I am still unsure as to why, as it was such a joyous and successful chapter. Although wrestling with emotion, I am confident in my love of the dance and everything that comes with it: the raw emotion, the failure, the success, and the relationships gained. The peace running allows me is a blessing, and I intend to foster that gift to the best of my abilities. Onward.